Telling the Stories of Fayette County, Tennessee
|Fayette County resident, c. 1964. |
Photo courtesy of Nick Lawrence.
Welcome to Fayette County, Tennessee
from the developers of the web site:
The site of vigorous struggle during the 1960s, many of the white residents of Fayette County used economic tactics to try to stop the African American population from registering to vote. Black county residents lost access to insurance, credit, and such basic goods as food and gasoline. Hundreds of sharecroppers and tenant farmers were evicted from the land on which they lived and worked. Several of these families moved into Tent Cities erected on land owned by supporters.
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The movement in Fayette County lasted from 1959 into the early 1970s and participants ranged from elderly African Americans voting for the first time in their lives to young children integrating hostile environments in the county's previously all-white schools. It forged local leaders and also included civil rights workers from across the U.S. and Europe. It included not only painful relocations but also empowering journeys, as local activists traveled to meet with leaders in the federal government and to explore new forms of political action. And while African Americans argued over how best to overcome the obstacles they faced, white responses ranged from violent intimidation to support—if often secretive—for civil rights activists.
Though we cannot begin to tell (or even find) every individual's story from this era, we want to include a variety of perspectives here; this site provides a venue in which Fayette County residents can describe their memories of these events. But we are also interested in the relationship between history and the present. How do experiences from the 1960s affect people's feelings, hopes, or concerns about Fayette County today? What do these stories mean to young people who are just learning about the county's past?
In another sense, though, we believe the stories and discussions gathered here may have meaning far beyond Fayette County. The struggle for justice is not unique to this region, after all, and here, as elsewhere, it highlighted deep divisions within the community while forcing everyone who lived in the area to think about what change might mean for their society and for themselves as individuals. We want to understand how people live and work in a shared locale during periods of social upheaval, or how they negotiate contemporary conflict while planning for a still uncertain future. Today, Fayette County faces new kinds of change, including the impact of growth from nearby Memphis. What does Fayette County's history mean to newer residents--whether those who have moved recently or young people born locally--and how might broader recognition of that past shape the county today? We think the people of Fayette County offer a special opportunity to understand how communities can overcome difficult pasts, an issue that remains urgent in national and global discussion.
These are some questions we've been thinking about, but we still don't know what kinds of stories we'll discover! We look forward to seeing how this project develops and hope that visitors to this website will stay to share their stories.
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Sponsored by the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute at the University of Memphis, this website is being developed by faculty and students at Iowa State University, and the University of Memphis. We hope many more people who live or have spent time in Fayette County will add to this website. We encourage everyone interested in these topics to browse and read the materials posted here. If you are interested in participating, please sign up for an account here and post inside the discussions. We would especially appreciate your sharing any photographs, documents or writings you may have from the 1960s.